Thursday, January 17, 2008

Game #46

Habs Get the Better of Thrashers in Shootout

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Thursday January 17th, 2008
Opponent: Atlanta Thrashers
Venue: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA


Team Stripes


Final Score: 3-2 (SO) - Win

Habs starting goalie: Cristobal Huet (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Kari Lehtonen (SO)

Habs goalscorers: Andrei Kostitsyn (1, SO), Michael Ryder, (Saku Koivu - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis



2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Win After Trailing After the First Period
1st Win Against Atlanta This Year (1-0-2)



Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Go and see this goal - it will not be hard to find. Simply turn on your TV today or tomorrow, find a sports show and you will see one of the Habs' (and NHL's) top goals of the season.

Andrei Kostitsyn took a nice pass from Plekanec in the neutral zone and then went to work. He quickly made a meal of one Thrasher at the blue line and headed into their zone. There he split 2 veteran defencemen (Zhitnik and Klee) with a superb move. Then, alone with Lehtonen, he made a fantastic move left to right, dropped the goalie and roofed a backhand - what a fabulous goal.



Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Saku Koivu

Saku was reunited with Higgins for a full game for the first time in over a month and it worked. He was held off the official scoresheet, but was the one who ended it in the shootout with a nice, low, accurate shot. He was at the height of his form all game and Carbo obviously recognized this rewarding him with 21+ minutes of ice time. His -1 rating is not a good representation at all of his great defensive play tonight as he was used, effectively, in all situations.



Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...

Forwards

Saku Koivu
- Looked great tonight and scored a fantastic winner in the shootout. His line was our most dangerous which should come as no real surprise considering he is now back to playing with an NHL top-2 line winger. Worked hard in the offensive zone creating chance after chance for both himself and his line-mates

Andrei Kostitsyn
- His goal is reason enough to put him into the dome, but otherwise he played a very good game. Looked very confident all night handling the puck as he is less and less hesitant to try new things - most evident with his super-goal

Tom Kostopoulos
- Tom played one of his best games as a Hab even though his stats may look quite bare. His fore-checking was effective, and although he was used sparingly I felt he set the tone for the Habs early in the game and the rest of the team fed off that. There were a few times in the defensive zone when I thought Komisarek had made a fabulous play only to realize that I had mistaken Komi's #8 for Kostopoulos' #6

Defencemen

Josh Gorges
- This player has come a long way, or maybe I should say that Carbo's faith in this player has come a long way. He was always meant to be good and in my eyes always was, but it seems that the Habs are only just now recognizing this. Played great in his own end as I continue to notice the amount of smart, intelligent plays he makes. He jumped up into the offence a little more tonight which is always good to see

Andrei Markov
- It isn't very often that 37 goal-scorer Kovalchuk is held goal-less or pointless (13 times all year and not once in his previous 10 games), but for a third time, in as many games against Atlanta, the Habs did just that. There is not one player we can thank more for this complete shutdown of the league's best than Markov. Defensively he was outstanding tonight and, huge surprise, he also was offensively

Goaltender

Cristobal Huet
- He made my heart rate go up for about 20 minutes, but apart from handing Atlanta one point I would say that he completely redeemed himself. He made a horrible play in the corner putting the puck into the no-goalie zone with no defencemen around. With an open puck and a goalie 20' from the net the Thrashers had no problem tying the game up. This is just another example of why he MUST STAY IN HIS NET. There are 2 types of goalies - goalies that should play absolutely every puck (Brodeur, DiPietro and absolutely no one else) and those (the rest of the league) who should only come out when they 100% sure it is safe. We have seen clear examples all year of why our goalies should not wander and if they keep it up it will surely cost us a lot more than 1 point to Atlanta. Otherwise Huet played a great game, made incredible saves after his gaffe and was brilliant in the shootout - stopping both Kozlov and Hossa



Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Kovy played a good game, but wasn't really the cause of anything spectacular, but was also never at the root of a major problem. The PP looked good when it got set-up with Kovy running it very well. He got a little unlucky that some of his passes, which were great, weren't converted by his teammates, otherwise he could have had a multiple point night. Kovalev was chosen as the 3rd shooter to shoot in the shootout, but because we scored our first two and they didn't he didn't need to shoot. He, along with Saku (no offence to Kostitsyn at all who made a great play to score his penalty-shot) are our 2 best shooters and should be 1 and 2 in the shootout. The order amongst the top two is not important, just that your best two shoot first and second. After that, starting with the third shooter, you should put your players in order of descending talent. This way you are guaranteed that you won't be left wondering what could have been if only Kovy had his chance. I am upset that we don't realize this strategy yet, but am sure glad that Atlanta doesn't understand it either - Kovalchuk never took his shot as he was to shoot third.

If Kovalev is having a great season we can't help but recognize that a big reason for that is his centre-man, Plekanec. Kovy would be the first to admit that a winger needs a good centre to excel and in Plekanec he has that player. A little less than four years ago, when we traded for Kovy, we gave the Rangers the option of one of the following players in return for the Russian Superstar; Jozef Balej, Ron Hainsey, Marcel Hossa or Tomas Plekanec. The Rangers chose Balej who is the only one not currently in the NHL. Thanks to the Rangers to the relief of this Habs fan and to the everlasting delight of Kovalev we still have Plekanec. Sometimes things just work out, this time they just didn't work out for New York.

Kovalev's Assessment - Good



Overall Comments

We outplayed Atlanta for most of this game, but thanks to good goaltending from Lehtonen and a gift from Huet it was a surprisingly close game. The win puts an end to a very succesful road trip in which we won 3 of 4 games. We now have a 16-7-3 road record which is good for 2nd in the NHL. Since December 20, a usual hard time of the year for the Habs, we are 8-2-3 bagging 19 of a possible 26 points (a .731 winning %). Tonight marked the first time that the Habs have come back from a first period deficit to win a game this season(1-9-1). That stat may seem like bad news and although it isn't good news, it is not as bad as it seems. The stat that stares out at me here is that in 46 games the Habs have only been trailing after 1 period in 11 games - now that is quite a fantastic stat when you think about it.

Huet's play in the shootout was very nice to see as it is usually (especially against Atlanta) a weak part of his game. He stayed with the shooters, allowed them to make the first move, but most of all made himself big and took away most of the net. This strategy is obviously far superior to that of Lehtonen. Kari slid into the net on both goals, so even had he saved the puck the goal would have counted. The Habs must have known this about him as they put both of their shots low, towards his pads, for what seems like would always be a guaranteed goal.

Our team is looking good and although many believe we are being led by our offence I will offer a different perspective. We all know that in Huet we have one of the league's best goalies, but have we ever considered our defence as an elite corps? I think that we should. Led by Markov I think that we may have the best group of 7 in the league right now. Hamrlik, Komisarek, Streit, Bouillon, Gorges and O'Byrne have all proven themselves as quality D-men and apart from the injured O'Byrne are currently all playing near the best hockey of their careers. Our veteran core of Streit, Bou, Marky and Hammer is complimented very well with 3 excellent youngsters that will carry the torch for years to come - Komi, Gorges, O'B. This is an exciting time for the team, but let's stay focused and for goodness sake let's make Montreal a very hard city for other teams to even think about getting a win in; like it always was.

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